There’s a magical place right here in Shanghai, a quiet, serene spot with several floral arrangements and even more shades of pink. It’s Sorority China, an exclusive coworking space for women that encourages sisterly bonds in an attempt to shift the ‘gender status quo.’ They’ve got a coliving space too for those looking to get real sorority with it. We sat down with founder and CEO Michelle Li to talk sisterhood and her future plans for the company.
*** Michelle Li is a Beijing native who grew up mostly in Eugene, Oregon. She attended the University of Washington where she herself was a Delta Gamma. In 2007, post-graduation Michelle returned to China to live out her entrepreneurial aspirations and eventually launched her own company. Michelle’s partner in crime in this venture is Marianna Yu, who holds the titles co-founder and CMO and comes from a background in reporting. Sorority China began as a project in Beijing to secure safe housing for women, but eventually spread to Shanghai in December 2016 as a coliving space and then in a second location just for coworking opened in June 2017. Coworking spaces are nothing new in Shanghai but while women only coworking is a trend picking up around the world, Sorority China is the first and only of its kind in China. Their doors are open and they're looking for more sisters, so we sat down with Michelle Li to see what it was all about...
Michelle speaking at the coworking opening July 7, 2017
SmSh: So how’d this all get started? Why create a space exclusively for women?
Michelle: I started it after having a dream one night, that I was back in my sorority house at college and remembered the security and comfort I felt at home away from home with the other sisters in the house. Also, I like to look at trends, and I knew that China's growth in the next few years would dip and this would effect traditional industries such as real estate a lot, so it was also an opportunity for better management models to arise in the co-shared economy era. Being a women who has grown up in my twenties in China, I knew that as my friends and I got older, we still wanted to pursue things in our career and life with or without settling down and starting a family. This meant we needed real physical spaces where women could support each other and become more independent and successful in our endeavors.
SmSh: When did you meet Marianna Yu [Co-founder of Sorority China]? When did you guys decide to work together?
Michelle: We met in a lovely afternoon tea party in a garden at one of our investor's house. She was exactly opposite of me, very feminine, a former television anchor and producer, and born and raised in China. But the one thing we did have in common, was our ambition, our vision to be entrepreneurs, [and the desire to] to change the gender quo in China to. We wanted to build a successful business while doing good for the underdogs.
There are no desks in the coworking space, the main room is a lounge where ideas can be shared
SmSh: What does Sorority China provide for members?
Michelle: One of our core beliefs is that "behind every successful woman is her tribe of sisters that have her back." This means each and every one of our members is pre-selected based on common shared values and demonstrates a strong interest in collaborating with other like-minded women. In addition to the physical coliving and coworking spaces, how we actually help each women grow is especially important. It can be events and workshops as well as company visits, start-up and leadership training, and media support to build personal branding in China, but ultimately it has to be the capital and investments available to help women in their businesses.
SmSh: What collaborations have been born out of the space?
Michelle: One of our members, a recent grad of Central St. Martins designed her own jewelry and found her initial customers amongst other members, who were helping her to promote on their own wechat as well as business platforms. There have also been collaborative events among members who share the same target market, which helps our members reduce their own costs as well as find more partners to work with. We've also been working with many women founders seeking funding, not just putting VCs in touch, but really helping them get the business plan and personal profile right which is key to accessing more resources in China.
This is the coworking space's meeting room
SmSh: Who's in the sorority?
Michelle: Our members' ages range from 25 and up. Many are starting out in running their own businesses, and want to build their customer base, find co-founders, learn from best practices, and receive funding. Their industries range from e-commerce, design, consulting, F&B to fitness and health. For each of our locations we keep a maximum membership number of 100, we have two locations in Shanghai and another one opening up in Beijing at the end of the year.
SmSh: What's next for Sorority China?
Michelle: Aside from more physical locations across China, we are working hard on our management method and research in the dynamics of how women can really work well together! As we [see it] sisterhood, is something that isn't natural to the Chinese society, but it can be fostered if done right.
Coliving is full and for the protection of current tenants, its address is not shared. But the coworking space launched recently, so they still have spots for about 50 or so members. Membership is competitive, they’re looking for specific qualities and want to ensure the partnership would be mutually beneficial. Important note: your horoscope sign is part of the application process. Like any sorority, you’ve gotta pay your dues. Currently there's an opening deal for an annual membership at 1288rmb a month. Membership also gets you access to weekly social events and about 8 informational workshops each month. If you want to apply click here. For more info make an appointment by emailing email@example.com.
Rah Rah Sis Boom Ba! Sisterhood! Pictures provided by Sorority China